When police in Northern Ireland found the Barrett, they were delighted. It was in one piece, located in a secret compartment at the bottom of a trailer. They had feared the rifle would have been dismantled, making it harder for police to recover it.
When police in Maryland arrested Muhammad and Malvo, some reports said the Bushmaster rifle had also been hidden within the Caprice. They were also delighted because the rifle made a direct link between the two men and the shootings.
The Future of Counter-Terrorism
There has been no sign that the Beltway Sniper was in any way linked to the IRA, but there have been links between terrorists, even those whose causes are completely unrelated.
This spring, a House International Relations Committee hearing concluded the IRA has "well-established links" with terrorists in Colombia since at least 1998. Three Irishmen were arrested in Colombia in August 2001 on suspicion of training FARC rebels.
And even if the IRA didn't inspire Muhammad and Malvo, law enforcement experts fear the Beltway sniper will inspire others.
"This sort of thing is more dangerous and harder to fight than someone driving an airplane into the World Trade Center," said Terry Oden, a security consultant based in Birmingham, Ala.
Oden, who worked as the secret service attaché in Europe in the 1980s, recalled the IRA bombings. "Just imagine someone doing this in Dallas, New York, San Francisco," he said. "It's just scary, scary."
Dolnik was sure the Beltway sniper, owing to media attention, would surely garner copycats. In the years after the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking, there were 40 similar attempts, he said — but none of them succeeded.
However, he was confident that al Qaeda would not be one of the copycats. "They're more of trend-setters than trend-followers," he said.
Meanwhile, Oden said it's too early to see what kind of counter-measures the sniper attack will inspire — but it's also beside the point.
An increased military presence — putting more personnel in the streets, and surveillance planes in the sky, like the kind the Washington-area authorities called on to find the Beltway sniper, might help, he said.
But ultimately, he made that the familiar analogy of likening security efforts to the war on drugs. "You have to stop it at the source," he said.